Oh, rats! Complaints drop in Upper Arlington but caution still urged in fight against rodents

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Harwitch Road resident Hope Harrison captured an image of a rat that scaled a Shepard's hook in her backyard last July to access a bird feeder. City officials say local construction and food sources outside homes can lead to intrusions from a variety of rodents and other wildlife.

Hope Harrison sat bemused this past July, as she looked out the office window of her Harwitch Road home to see a rat shimming its way up the shepherd’s hook holding a bird feeder in her backyard – in broad daylight. 

In the 20 years Harrison lived in the home with her husband, Wade, and sons, Jake, Ryan and Alex, she’d never seen a rat on her property. 

But from May through the rest of the summer, Harrison said, it became more commonplace for her to see rats in her backyard and while walking through her neighborhood. 

“I noticed them burrowing in the mulch bed, literally outside my house,” Harrison said. “At this point, we decided this was all-out war. 

“We set up some traps around my house, and we stopped putting out birdseed. We’ve got our firewood up on racks and covered with tarps.” 

At the height of the infiltration, Harrison said, her traps caught rats on a daily basis, even though she had eliminated all known food sources in her yard. 

Inspectors from the city saw no obvious issues after looking around the property at her request. 

Harrison said she hasn’t seen any rat activity in her yard or throughout the neighborhood since summer. 

“We’ll see what happens come spring, I guess,” she said. “No one is immune to this.” 

In recent months, the city of Upper Arlington has posted tips for dealing with rodents on social media and City Manager Steve Schoeny dedicated his Nov. 9 “For the Record” column on the city’s website to the topic. Officials said there is no widespread infestation at the moment. 

The city doesn’t track rodent-specific complaints, according to Code Compliance Officer Tom Paisley, “because it tends to attract many different animal species.” 

Rather, he said, the city compiles data related to “composting of food and/or ground feeding of wildlife.” 

Paisley said the city received 28 such complaints in 2017, 31 in 2018, 25 in 2019 and 22 in 2020. As of Jan. 29, the city has had two complaints this year. 

“In the cases listed, code compliance observed food scraps placed in open compost piles and/or birdseed, popcorn and peanuts placed out on the ground for wildlife,” Paisley said. “Most residents have good intentions by placing out food for the birds and other wildlife, but in the end, it causes a public health nuisance by attracting deer, skunks, raccoons and rodents. 

“Residents in violation of open composting of food and/or ground feeding wildlife are sent written notification.” 

Emma Speight, community-affairs director for the city, credited the drops in wildlife-related complaints in the past two years to solid-waste and recycling programming.   

“We believe the drop in complaints is related to the city’s new trash service contract with Local Waste, which started in February of 2018,” Speight said. “Also, the city added food waste recycling drop-off points at the Municipal Services Center and two park locations, which has reduced the number of complaints about food waste in compost piles on private property.” 

Speight said the city typically receives an “uptick” in complaints about field mice entering homes, but property owners are responsible for the removal or extermination of rodents on their properties. 

Although the city, from time to time, receives “a wave of calls about particular wildlife issues,” Speight said, the recent postings about rodents were part of an effort to “regularly share reminders with the community on a variety of topics.” 

As for what has driven rat migrations in recent years, Speight, Harrison and Jeremy Chester, owner of Critter Control franchises in Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, all theorized they were due, at least in part, to ongoing construction throughout Upper Arlington. 

“Triggers for the migration of rodents or other wildlife to different neighborhoods can include construction projects that displace them from underground pipes or failure by a restaurant or other food-focused business to properly dispose of trash or to maintain their dumpster area,” Speight said. “Once the source of the issues has been identified, corrective measures are usually sufficient to reduce their presence.” 

Chester said he’s worked in wildlife management for 20 years and hasn’t seen a marked increase in calls for service in Upper Arlington at any point during that time. 

He noted there were issues with a growing number of rat sightings in downtown Columbus “a few years ago,” and believes it was due to a high volume of roadwork and building construction at the time. 

When construction in an area slows or ends, Chester said, that often results in rats and other rodents spending most of their time underground. 

That seems to be the case for Doone Road resident Karmen Hartranft, who battled rats – including one that took up residence in her garage for a brief period – in 2016. 

“We haven’t had a problem since,” Hartranft said. “I think our problem started when a house was knocked down and two put up in its place. Some tunnels were disrupted. It’s been pretty rat-free for us since.” 

While residents can’t do much about construction around their homes, they can help themselves when it comes to deterring rats and other rodents on their properties, Chester said. 

He said the rodents typically seek food and shelter so eliminating food scraps in compost piles and sealing cracks around houses, including in eave spouts, can help. 

Another big attraction, Chester said, is dog waste. 

“The biggest one no one thinks about is dog waste,” he said. “Dog feces in yards is very high in protein. That’s one of their main food sources.” 

While bird feeders, as witnessed by Harrison, can attract rats, Chester said there’s no foolproof way to avoid the rodents if they are migrating from other areas. 

He advised that people should be vigilant and reduce food sources and possible shelters for the pests, but they should not deny themselves some of life’s simple pleasures. 

“If you’re seeing rats in your yard every day, something is going on,” Chester said. “But there’s enough stuff to get worked up about. If someone wants to feed the birds, feed the birds. Just put the feeder as far away from the house as you can.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate